According to a survey by RAND Corporation, prisoners studying for a certificate of high school equivalency, also known as a GED, are 43 percent more likely not to return to prison if they pass. Nationally, 4 in 10 inmates return to prison within three years of release showing recidivism remains high.
Surveys find no more than half of inmates receive any instruction despite most states offering some type of correctional education. 36% of individuals in state prisons nationwide had less than a high school diploma in 2004. However, the tables have turned in New Jersey state prisons according to Jecrois Jean-Baptiste, director of education for the state Department of Corrections.
“We do have a very strong educational footprint,” he said.
Since the average prisoner is at a fifth-grade reading level, Jean-Baptiste admits more can be done.
“What we do is consistently ramp up our instructional programming, so we can bring them up to speed and become better candidates for the GED,” he explained.
Morning and afternoon classroom sessions are held five days a week at Garden State Youth Correctional Facility. For about three hours a day students are in class. Inmates are sectioned off according to their learning level – low, medium, or GED prep. To help teachers with placement, each inmate who enters the prison takes the Adult Basic Education test.
Classrooms range from about 20 to 25 students and the total number of inmates in the program can swell to more than 200 at times as Assistant Supervisor of Education, Deniece Gray put it. Inmates taken an average of six months to earn a high school equivalency certificate, something Gary has helped hundreds of prisoners do in her 15 years as a teacher.
“When they come here, I know there are certain things they have to do to keep them from coming back. And education is a big part of that.”
However, while education is beneficial, it comes as a cost to taxpayers.
According to Phil Dunn of The Daily Journal, it costs taxpayers more than $1 billion every year to operate New Jersey prisons. According to Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Correction, in 2010, the total spent on the state’s prisons was about $1.4 billion which equals about $54,000 per inmate with an average population of 25,800.
When the new high school equivalency test goes into effect this January, costs could go higher. Test will be taken digitally by 2016.
A $1 investment in prison education reduces incarceration costs by $4 to 5$ during the first three years after release according to the RAND study.
“We found strong evidence that correctional education plays a role in reducing recidivism,” maintained Lois Davis, the projects lead researcher and a senior policy researcher at RAND. “Our findings are clear that providing inmates education programs and vocational training helps keep them from returning to prison and improves their future job prospects.”
Prison education programs are also cost-effective according to the findings. Nationwide, the direct cost of providing education are estimated to be from $1,400 to $1,744 per inmate, with re-incarceration costs at $8,700 to $9,700 less for each inmate who received correctional education.
“Our findings suggest we no longer need to debate whether correctional education works,” Davis said.